The Ups & Downs of Digital Art

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There’s a strange vibe I’ve noticed recently surrounding digital art. Maybe it’s the pandemic getting to people. Maybe it’s just the internet’s tendency to judge everything. The vibe is that digital art isn’t as respected as traditional art.

Now, that’s just crazy. For a couple of reasons.

Is digital art on the same level as traditional art? Yes! Of course it is! Paints, brushes and canvases are tools that traditional artists use. Procreate, Photoshop, iPads, Cintiqs, and digital brushes are tools that digital artists use.

We’re all making art and we’re all using tools that suit us.

And here are some interesting numbers from the 1st Annual Children’s Book Illustrator Survey:

  • 53.4% of respondents work mostly digital

  • 33.7% combine traditional and digital

  • 12.9% work mostly traditional

At least in the children’s book market, artists are leaning heavily towards digital art these days.

Let’s talk about some pros and cons of that.

Ease of Editing

One reason that I rely on Photoshop and Procreate is that editing is easy. Need to move a section of an illustration? No problem! Need to resize something? Super easy. Want to change a few colors or adjust some values? Can do!

For this reason alone, I recommend that illustrators learn how to use either Photoshop or Procreate. Even if you’re creating work entirely with traditional materials, learning how to edit and revise in Photoshop or Procreate is going to make your life much easier.

Even if you loathe digital art and don’t want to spend time learning a new app, you’ll find that easier edits make it worth the effort of learning.

On the flipside, being able to endlessly edit an illustration has a dark side too. You can change things forever and ever and ever. You need to be mindful of making continuous changes that don’t serve the final illustration, that only serve to drive you slowly insane.

No Waiting for Paint to Dry

Over the past year or so, I’ve been combining traditional and digital in my art and my least favorite part of the entire process is… waiting for paint to dry!

Seriously, what a bummer for an impatient human like myself.

But working in Photoshop or Procreate means no waiting for drying paint. That’s a nice bonus if you’re a) impatient or b) need to work quickly on a project.

Spontaneity

Before I say this, remember that I love making digital art and have spent years teaching artists how to capture painterly qualities in their digital work.

But.

It can be easy to lose the sense of spontaneity with digital art.

With traditional materials, you naturally got some happy accidents. Paint splatters. Ink spills. Unintended wonky lines. Things that felt like an ‘oops’ at first that really added something special to an illustration in the end.

With digital art, you’re more likely to create intentional happy accidents. You can intentionally add paint splatters, ink spills, wonky lines, etc. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

I know from my own practice that those intentional happy accidents I create in Photoshop or Procreate started to feel more spontaneous when I added a regular, messy sketchbook practice back into my life.

Playing around with traditional art materials helps me feel more in tune with the spontaneity and I can more easily translate that into my digital work.

Even if you work mostly digital, it’s still good fun and good practice to have a regular drawing practice that embraces traditional materials too.

Do What Works

I’m going to leave you with this: do what works for you.

Embrace it wholeheartedly.

Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing. Make art in whatever way allows you to express your unique artistic voice.

But make room for new things. If you’re working mostly digital, try playing around with some traditional art materials in your sketchbook. And if you’re working mostly traditional, give Procreate or Photoshop a spin.

You never know what you might discover when you take space to explore and experiment!


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  1. Julien says:

    Very true! BTW, which organization did the 1st Annual Children’s Book Illustrator Survey? Thanks!

  2. Priyanka says:

    I studied in a Fine Art College to realise that this attitude of ‘Traditional Art is superior’ runs deep! Took me a long time to stop talking down to myself because I carried this belief even though I personally never felt that way.

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